Top 50 Silent Films

 

50. The King of Kings (1927)
Director: Cecil B. DeMille

The King of Kings is the Greatest Story Ever Told as only Cecil B. DeMille could tell it. In 1927, working with one of the biggest budgets in Hollywood history, DeMille spun the life and Passion of Christ into a silent-era blockbuster. Featuring text drawn directly from the Bible, a cast of thousands, and the great showman’s singular cinematic bag of tricks, The King of Kings is at once spectacular and deeply reverent—part Gospel, part Technicolor epic. The Criterion Collection is proud to present this beloved film in a two-disc edition featuring both the 112-minute general-release version and the rarely seen 155-minute cut that premiered at the grand opening of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Source - The Criterion Collection

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49. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (1920)
Director: John S. Robertson

John Barrymore's performance in the silent classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) is described by Barrymore biographer Margot Peters as "a revelation" -- the first real evidence that "a great stage actor could transfer that talent to the screen and be appreciated by a public who had never entered a theater in its life." As it happened, Barrymore's version was one of two silent film treatments of the often-filmed Robert Louis Stevenson story released in 1920. The other was a poorly received vehicle for over-the-top silent actor Sheldon Lewis, set in contemporary New York rather than 19th-century London. But it was Barrymore's performance that created a sensation. One of the more amazing things about his portrayal is that he accomplishes the intial transition from the refined, handsome Jekyll to the evil, hideous Hyde with no special makeup, camery trickery or cutting. In a continuous sequence that takes up one thousand feet of film, Barrymore simply turns away from the camera with his hands hiding his face, then turns back to reveal grotesquely distorted features. In later sequences, makeup aids his transformation into a horror with pointed head and fangs. Barrymore puts his hands, which he had always considered ugly and "blunt," to effective use as Hyde, wearing sleeves that rise above his wrists as he twists them into claws.Source - TCM (Turner Classic Movies)

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48. The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Director: Paul Leni

Creaky, but enduring expressionistic suspenser is the classic "old dark house" movie as sundry characters converge at an ominous mansion for the reading of a will. Remade three times in the sound era, this silent version starring Laura LaPlante is considered the definitive rendering. Beware of inferior prints. Source - Rotten Tomatoes

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47. The Crowd  (1928)
Director: King Vidor

The Crowd 1928

The film is an influential and acclaimed feature which was nominated at the very first Academy Award presentation in 1928, for several awards, including a unique and artistic production for MGM, as well as the award for best director for King Vidor. In 1989, the film was one of the first 25 to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being; "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Kevin Brownlow and David Gill restored The Crowd in 1981, and it was released with a score by Carl Davis. Source - Wikipedia

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46. Male and Female (1919)
Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Male and Female, based on Sir James M. Barrie’s comedy of manners The Admirable Crichton, is notable as one of the biggest hits for two Hollywood film legends - the first superstar, Gloria Swanson, and director Cecil B. DeMille. Swanson entered films in 1914 at the age of 15 after a chance visit to the Essanay Studios in her native Chicago. While making comedies, she met her future husband, actor Wallace Beery, and followed him to California, where she signed on with Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios. DeMille was the first superstar director. He studied at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and worked as an actor and manager for his mother’s theatrical agency. Source - San Francisco Silent Film Festival

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45. The Last Command (1928)
Director: Josef von Sternberg

The Lst Command 1928

A former Imperial Russian general and cousin of the Czar ends up in Hollywood as an extra in a movie directed by a former revolutionary. Josef von Sternberg’s The Last Command is a brilliantly realized silent melodrama and a witty send-up of the Hollywood machine. Emil Jannings won the very first Academy Award for best Actor in the film. Source - Archive.org

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44. Foolish Wives (1922)
Director: Erich von Stroheim

Foolish Wives 1922

One of the few truly visionary works ever produced within the Hollywood studio system - even in it's truncated form you can see what Stroheim was aiming for: a cinema that was novelistic without being literary, multiple interconnecting character trajectories to give us not a story, but a universe.Writer/director Erich von Stroheim stars as a fraudulent count, living high on the hog in Monte Carlo. He supports himself by extorting huge sums of money from silly married ladies who are dumb enough to fall for his romantic charms. Von Stroheim’s partners in crime, phony princesses Mae Busch and Maud George, live in a state of perpetual depravity with the count in a huge mansion. Source - Letterboxd

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43. The Iron Horse (1924)
Director: John Ford 

With The Iron Horse, director John Ford returned to his early film roots to make a Western, but one of epic size and scope. The heroic tale of the building of the first transcontinental railroad provides the historical backdrop for the story of Davy Brandon, a young surveyor for the Union Pacific, whose father had been murdered many years before while pursuing his own dream of a rail link between the East and the West. Character and landscape inform and subtly reflect one another as the story moves relentlessly toward the driving of the final spike near Promontory, Utah, in 1869. Source - Moma.org

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42. Faust (1926)
Director: F.W. Murnau

The greatest master of horror in the silent era was a cheerful man, much loved by his collaborators, even though they might lose consciousness from time to time while enveloped in clouds of steam or surrounded by tongues of flame. F.W. Murnau (1888-1931) made two of the greatest films of the supernatural, "Nosferatu" (1922) and "Faust" (1926), both voted among the best horror films of all time on the Internet Movie Database: "Faust" surprisingly in fourth place, just ahead of "The Shining," "Jaws" and "Alien." Source - Roger Ebert

The Devil delivers a plague to the village where Faust, an elderly alchemist, lives. Though he prays to stop the death and starvation, nothing happens. Disheartened, Faust throws his alchemy books in the fire, and then the Bible too. One book opens, showing how to have power and glory by making a pact with the Devil. He goes to a crossroads as described in the book's procedure and conjures up the forces of evil. Source - Wikipedia

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41. Robin Hood  (1922)
Director: Allan Dwan

Silent action king Douglas Fairbanks Sr. is the most exuberantly athletic of Robin Hoods, for sheer physicality perhaps outdoing even Errol Flynn’s definitive performance. Fairbanks’s third swashbuckler after The Mark of Zorro and The Three MusketeersRobin Hood is in some ways the ideal Fairbanks vehicle: The bravura stuntwork and moral theme of resisting oppression are as strong as in The Mark of Zorro; the awesome castle sets rival the lavish production design of The Thief of Bagdad; the well-crafted plot is as engaging as Don Q Son of Zorro; and the large-scale action scenes, with scores of Merry Men besetting Prince John’s troopers, are bigger in scale than even the buccaneer action of The Black Pirate. Missing from the story are the familiar episodes of Robin Hood’s career: the fateful shooting of the King’s deer; the quarterstaff bout with Little John atop a river-spanning log; the archery contest / trap episode. Source - Decentfilms

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40. Shoulder Arms (1918)
Director: Charles Chaplin 

Charlie Chaplin came late to the First World War; so late, in fact, that the Armistice was declared just under a month after the release of his WWI movie Shoulder Arms. Although only 46 minutes, Shoulder Arms was too long to be classified as a short, so is often regarded as Chaplin’s first feature film. Reluctant to engage with the war effort, Chaplin had finally given in to popular pressure and had done ‘his bit’ through his tour selling war bonds. Sending his Little Tramp figure onto the battlefield seemed like a good idea to Chaplin, and Shoulder Arms had started out as a project called Camouflage, which he’d put to one side in order to deliver his promised ‘propaganda’ film. Source - Chaplin: Film by Film

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39. 7th Heaven (1927)
Director: Frank Borzage

The gutter and the garret, the lows and highs of emotion, the realm of Frank Borzage. Venice has its garbagemen (Trouble in Paradise), so here with the sewer underneath Parisian lights: the street-washer (Charles Farrell) is "a very remarkable fellow" in his own mind, down in the sludge he keeps his eyes on the stars. Elsewhere, the wounded waif (Janet Gaynor) suffers under her sister’s whip and Absinthe-crazed eyes, scrawny yet as luminous as a Fra Angelico maiden. The man is on bad terms with God, he prays for a tawny bride and instead gets the suicidal orphan, their marriage is a façade for the police. Source - Letterboxd

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38. The Ten Commandments (1923)
Director: Cecil B. DeMille

This silent version of Cecil B. Demille's The Ten Commandments is entertaining, but lackluster compared to his 1956 Oscar winning remake. Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 The Ten Commandments is quite the landmark for the now beloved director of Golden Hollywood. While not technically his first historical epic (that was the 1916 Joan the Woman), it was his first Biblical pageant and his first financially successful epic. It also marked a transitional period for the man. A witty director of sex farces and sexy romantic comedies with jazz-age sensibilities, DeMille was becoming more pious and humorless in his work. Perhaps he had a life crisis and thought that he had to please God with his work. Source - The Good The Bad and The Critic

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37. The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Director: Paul Leni

Director Paul Leni integrates German Expressionist techniques with the demands of the Hollywood system without compromising their effectiveness. For the film, the owner of Universal, Carl Laemmle, paired Leni with another preeminent German émigré, Conrad Veidt, who had appeared in a number of classic films, including The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1919). His costar was the demure heroine from The Phantom of the Opera, Mary Philbin. The actors worked with the studio's most talented and influential technicians, including production designer Charles Hall, who began his association with Leni on The Cat and the CanaryThe Man Who Laughs also marked the first makeup assignment for Jack Pierce, the maestro who subsequently sculpted the features of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr. Source - PopMatters

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36. The Golem: How He Came Into The World (1920)
Director: C. Boese/P. Wegener

While filming The Student of Prague (1913), Paul Wegener heard the 16th century legend of Rabbi Loew, who tradition says saved the Jews of Prague from persecution by creating a Golem – a clay statue infused with life – to protect them. Wegener became captivated by the story and made a film version inspired by it in 1915 called The Golem, and then in 1917 The Golem and the Dancing Girl, considered the first film sequel (if one does not count serials). Source - The Revenant Review

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35. Earth: Zemlya (1930)
Director: Aleksandr Dovzhenko

Of the silent trilogy, Earth (1930) is Dovzhenko’s most accessible film but, perhaps for these same reasons, most misunderstood. In 1958 a Brussels’ film jury would vote Earth as one of the great films of all time. Earth marks a threshold in Dovzhenko’s career emblematic of a turning point in the Ukrainian cultural and political avant-garde - the end of one period and transition to another. Before its release, Earth was greeted with a cacophony of opposing opinion. Produced in 1929, released in 1930, Earth precipitated a debate that is still not understood. This led to censorship and the film’s reediting of which we have yet to see full restoration. The avant-garde and intelligentsia would celebrate Earth. In a series of party-backed protests the Bolsheviks and Moscow workers’ clubs would rise against it. The debates would also herald the Ukrainian cultural renaissance’s wane and lead to Dovzhenko’s longer self-censorship. A new period would begin in Ukraine marked by purges, terror and a party-orchestrated famine. Source crayuzwyshyn.net

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34. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917)
Director: Marshall Neilan

In this film, Mary Pickford stars as the spunky little girl who is left with her tight-lipped aunt Helen Jerome Eddy by her impoverished mother. It's an uphill battle, but Rebecca manages to spread a little sunshine around the staid New England community where her aunt resides. Source - Rotten Tomatoes

This version is notable for having been adapted by famed female screenwriter Frances Marion. The film was made by the “Mary Pickford Company” and was an acclaimed box office smash. - Source - Letterboxd

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33. Joan The Woman (1916)
Director: Cecil B. DeMille

This is without a doubt the finest screen version of Joan of Arc. The multi-talented Geraldine Farrar brings this saintly woman to the screen in all her piety. This is DeMille's first epic and he laid the groundwork for his subsequent masterpieces. This film is not only important for the superb acting but also for the technical aspects such as composition and beautiful photography. These early years are generally classified as DeMille's "Visionary Period". This is a wonderfully restored film complete with the hand tinted frames and William Furst's musical score from the original 1916 release. A very elaborate production for the time brimming with artistry and compelling continuity. The use of early special effects such as double exposure, the tinted frames to depict certain moods, blues for subdued and bright oranges for fiery rage. Opera diva Geraldine Farrar proved she was as dynamic an actress as she was a soprano. Source - (Rudy) IMDB

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32. Blood and Sand (1922)
Director: Fred Niblo

An immortal icon of brooding sexuality, Rudolph Valentino has become one of silent cinema's most enigmatic and entrancing performers. In Blood and Sand he stars as Juan Gallardo, a young Spaniard who achieves his boyhood ambition to become a celebrated toreador. But with fame come temptation and treachery, and the triumphant Juan finds himself the victim of his own desires and the sinister charms of the exotic Doña Sol (Nita Naldi). Source - PrimeVideo

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31. Peter Pan (1924)
Director: Herbert Brenon

One of the best silent films for the whole family, this magical production of Peter Pan is true to both letter and spirit of Barrie’s nursery tale. Going beyond stagebound productions, this Peter Pan includes the flying Jolly Roger, closeups of Tinker Bell, and a unique scene in which materials for a house gathered the Lost Boys magically assemble themselves around the unconscious Wendy. (One curiosity is Hollywood’s unabashed Americanization of Barrie’s British sentiment, including changing phrases such as "English gentlemen" to "American gentlemen" and replacing the Union Jack with the stars and stripes!) Source - DecentFilms

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30. The Immigrant (1917)
Director: Charles Chaplin

The film stars Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character as an immigrant coming to the United States who is accused of theft on the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, and falls in love with a beautiful young woman along the way. It also stars Edna Purviance and Eric Campbell.

The movie was written and directed by Chaplin.

According to Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's documentary series Unknown Chaplin, the first scenes to be written and filmed take place in what became the movie's second half, in which the penniless Tramp finds a coin and goes for a meal in a restaurant, not realising that the coin has fallen out of his pocket. It was not until later that Chaplin decided the reason the Tramp was penniless was that he had just arrived on a boat from Europe, and used this notion as the basis for the first half. Purviance reportedly was required to eat so many plates of beans during the many takes to complete the restaurant sequence (in character as another immigrant who falls in love with Charlie) that she became physically ill.

The scene in which Chaplin's character kicks an immigration officer was cited later as evidence of his anti-Americanism when he was forced to leave the United States in 1952. In 1998, The Immigrant was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Source - Wikipedia

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29. Safety Last! (1923)
Director: Fred C. Newmeyer

It is by general agreement the most famous shot in silent comedy: a man in a straw hat and round horn-rim glasses, hanging from the minute hand of a clock 12 stories above the city street. Strange, that this shot occurs in a film few people have ever seen. Harold Lloyd's "Safety Last" (1923), like all of his films, was preserved by the comedian but rarely shown; having been through most of Charlie Chaplin and virtually everything by Buster Keaton. Source - Roger Ebert

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28. The Sheik (1921)
Director: George Melford

Atmospheric romp in the Arabian desert, full of sweeping vistas of sand where caravans of horsebacked men in desert whites ride, bandits rove, harem girls dance, luxuriously decorated tents with striped walls blow in sandstorms, and a dashing Sheik, costumed to the hilt in robes and splendid burnoose, looks just like a bronzed God. Valentino has a tendency in parts of this film for over-the-top eye popping, perhaps in an effort to appear sinister. Source - Silentmoviecrazy

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27. The Penalty (1920)
Director: Wallace Worsley

In a role that established him as one of the most dynamically terrifying performers of the silent screen, Lon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera) stars in The Penalty, a grotesque thriller form director Wallace Worsley (The Hunchback of Notre Dame). When an incompetent doctor amputates the legs of a young boy, he has no idea that the youth will grow up to be the immoral and embittered Blizzard, a criminal mastermind who orchestrates a bizarre and heinous plot to avenge himself upon his malefactor. Source - High Def Digest

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26. The Lodger: A Story Of The London Fog (1927)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s films before The Lodger had plenty of his characteristic inventive camerawork and playfulness, but this is the one where he overtly hits the themes that he’d explore throughout his career: suspicion of people close to you, public mania, fear of the police. Telling the story of a sexy-but-dangerous lodger, whom our heroine suspects may be Jack the Ripper, Hitchcock builds upon clues and doubts, while making Ivor Novello’s character increasingly intriguing.

Source - Pastemagazine

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25. Show People (1928)
Director: King Vidor

Show People 1928

The film is known for being a light satire of Hollywood, is an entertaining and frequently hilarious trip up the Hollywood hierarchy. Director King Vidor uses this sly comedy in wasting few opportunities to skewer his own kind in finding things to poke fun of at every step. Marion Davies anchors the film, whose performance doesn’t exactly show a great deal of range, but she effortlessly carries the film, lending enough of a character arc that the story never feels like a cobbled together series of skits. The feature is also bolstered by a number of terrific star cameos from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks, Norma Talmadge, director Vidor himself and more. The film is inspired by a comic look at 1920s Hollywood and stardom with Davies’ character was based on the careers of silent divas Gloria Swanson and Mae Murray, it was a critical success and has since become a classic of its type. Source - A Medium Corporation

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24. Orphans of the Storm (1921)
Director: D.W. Griffith

Set on the eve of the French Revolution, D.W. Griffith's 1921 epic Orphans of the Storm interweaves history and melodrama in equal measure. Griffith follows the intertwined fates of two orphan girls, Henriette (Lillian Gish) and Louise (Dorothy Gish), whose fates are tied to the country's cruel divisions between rich and poor. Louise is the unwanted product of a marriage between an aristocratic member of the powerful De Vaudrey family and a commoner. She is taken away from her mother and deposited on the steps of Notre Dame where she is rescued by an impoverished man with a daughter of his own, Henrietta. The little girls grow up side by side as sisters. But they eventually lose their parents -- and Louise's eyesight -- to the plague. - Source TCM (Turner Classic Movies)

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23. Sunrise (1927)
Director: F.W. Murnau

The twist is supposed to arrive at the end of the movie, but Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans pulls the rug from under our feet just a third of the way in. We're suddenly offered a chance of happiness, as the film diverts down an unexpected path. It's a disconcerting but ultimately liberating jolt – as if Humphrey Bogart had stopped following Lauren Bacall around in The Big Sleep and taken that nice librarian out for dinner instead.Sunrise begins, as so many great films do, with the promise of sex and the threat of violence. Two clandestine lovers meet in the moonlight and dream of committing the perfect murder. But is Man (George O'Brien) really prepared to drown his sweet young wife (Janet Gaynor), sell his farm and move to a more exciting life in the city with his vamp girlfriend? Source - The Guardian

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22. The Circus (1928)
Director: Charles Chaplin

The Circus may be the film that most definitively silences critics who claim that Charlie Chaplin’s movies aren’t cinematic. It is Chaplin’s great elegy to the lost art of music-hall pantomime and, for that matter, the soon-to-be lost art of silent-film comedy. Production on this most underrated of Chaplin’s silent features wrapped three days after the premiere of The Jazz Singer. And yet, though the writing was on the wall that the silent clowns’ days were numbered, The Circus never feels maudlin or self-pitying like Chaplin’s later Limelight, where he mourns not the end of a particular aesthetic, but the very loss of his audience. This is very impressive, because the circus has become, in the hands of other filmmakers like Cecil B. DeMille and Federico Fellini, a site of calculated emotional manipulation, a setting where directors tweak our feelings with the subtlety of a ringmaster cracking his whip. Source - Slant Magazine

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21. A Page Of Madness (1926)
Director: Teinosuke Kinugasa

If you think Germany cornered the market on dark examinations of the psyche during the silent era, think again. Teinosuke Kinugasa’s A Page of Madness (sometimes translated as A Crazy Page, hard to find under any title) explores fractured, chaotic minds held captive in a mental institution. Do not expect something that is quaint by today’s standards. This thing will still blow your mind. Telling the story of a man who works as a janitor in the institution in the hopes of freeing his wife, the film contains no intertitles, making the plunge into insanity all the deeper. Kinugasa’s use of distorted lenses, multiple exposures and dazzling editing are made more impressive when you learn that the director hadn’t seen much of the European work that he appears to be emulating. Source - Pastemagazine

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20. Greed (1924)
Director: Erich von Stroheim

Greed 1924

In Greed (1924), Erich von Stroheim certainly succeeds at rejecting a sanitized vision of human nature. What little sympathy we feel for his characters is largely grounded and overwritten by a combination of pity and revulsion. But the director does not simply forsake his subjects. He brings us to their level, offers us entry into their lives and, somehow, finds a recognisable humanity amid the horrors of their actions. It is no surprise that such directors as Luchino Visconti, Orson Welles, and Billy Wilder named Greed among their ten favourite films of all time. Source - Sense of Cinema

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19. The Wind (1928)
Director: Victor Sjöström

The Wind 1929

Lillian Gish’s final silent film was a great capstone on her silent film career. It was also one of the last great silent films of the era, and in fact released on November 23rd, 1928, already more than a full year after sound had been introduced. In many people's eyes, The Wind is considered the last hurrah of the silent film era. It certainly was the last hurrah for the silent era’s greatest actress. It was purported that Gish herself had the idea to make this film and had pitched it to Irving Thalberg after reading the novel. In her introduction to the home video release in the late 1980’s, she mentions having put together a 4 page story of the film. It’s also purported that she hand-picked the director…the fabulous Victor Sjostrom (Seastrom), he of The Phantom Carriage(1921) and The Scarlet Letter (1926) (also with Gish). They would collaborate to make one of silent film’s great masterpieces. Source - Films Worth Watching

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18. The Big Parade (1925)
Director: King Vidor

King Vidor had a tough subject to deal with. He knew that he would have to show the horrors of war, and therefore worked his story out in such a manner that it has plenty of comedy relief and a love sequence. John Gilbert’s performance is a superb thing, while Renee Adoree, as the little French peasant, figuratively lives the role. The same may as well be said for Karl Dane and Tom O’Brien, for it is the excellent work of all these players and the manner in which Vidor has handled them that lift this production far above the ordinary. Teamwork has made this picture. It makes ’em laugh, cry, and it thrills – plenty. Besides which the captions are an example and a lesson of how it should be done. Source - Variety

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17. The Gold Rush (1925)
Director: Charles Chaplin

In 1922, after eight years of playing his baggy trousered tramp, Charlie Chaplin declared his vagabond days were over. He embarked upon A Woman Of Paris (1923) with the aim of becoming a great artist. But that lachrymose melodrama was a critical and commercial flop and Chaplin was forced to swallow his pretensions and throw himself into this knockabout comeback, which, ironically, was to prove his mastery of screen poetry. Initial inspiration for this movie came from two sources: a series of stereoscopic slides, belonging to Douglas Fairbanks, depicting an 1898 Klondike stampede and a graphic account of the infamous Donner expedition, which had ultimately succumbed to cannibalism. Yet there are countless autobiographical references throughout the film (Chaplin's schizophrenic mother, for example, had been a dancing girl), while others relate to his experience in music-hall (including the opening pursuit by a bear, which hailed from traditional English panto). Source - Empire

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16. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

The Passion of Joan of Arc 1928

Spiritual rapture and institutional hypocrisy come to stark, vivid life in one of the most transcendent masterpieces of the silent era. Chronicling the trial of Joan of Arc in the hours leading up to her execution, Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer depicts her torment with startling immediacy, employing an array of techniques—expressionistic lighting, interconnected sets, painfully intimate close-ups—to immerse viewers in her subjective experience. Anchoring Dreyer’s audacious formal experimentation is a legendary performance by Renée Falconetti, whose haunted face channels both the agony and the ecstasy of martyrdom. Source - The Criterion Collection

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15. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
Director: Fred Niblo

Ben Hur 1925

We’re all now well familiar with stories of epic movies with prolonged productions and out-of-control spending, but Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ set a high bar early on. The movie brought in more money than any film before it, but still couldn’t recoup its expenses. Yet somehow, after going through multiple directors and lead actors, the film turned out as grandiose as promised -a stirring drama that may be a bit uneven, but nevertheless delivers when it counts. The pirate attack and chariot race represent the ideal cinematic spectacle, pulsating with pure excitement. Source - Pastermagazine

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14. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Director: Robert Wiene

Considered to be the very first horror movie, The Cabinet of Dr, Califari (The movie Universal originally didn't want Hitchcock to make), not only turned out to be a hands-down masterpiece but also effectively invented a genre: the psycho-killer slasher movie.

Source - Rotten Tomatoes

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari brought German Expressionist film to full view with art direction that’s every bit as dark and twisted as the story it tells. Set in an environment full of askew streets, warped roofs and staircases that travel at impossible angles, no film has the same spooky feel as this tale of a mysterious doctor and the sleepwalker he uses as a murder weapon. While the film’s influence is immeasurable, its visuals were more a catalyst for ideas than a target of direct imitation. This is partly because the look is so out there, and partly because the graphical set design could have lent itself more to the film medium - the painted-on shadows and canvas backdrops can make it seem as if the characters are walking on plywood theater stages rather than through a demented cityscape. Source - Pastemagazine

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13. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
Director: Wallace Worsley

Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame stands among the all-time grand champions in the “When will you people finally get tired of filming this story?” stakes. If we count the Walt Disney version from 1997 (as I suppose we must), I know of at least 13 cinematic adaptations of the novel, going all the way back to 1906’s Esmeralda. (Incidentally, that total includes a couple versions inexplicably made in India!) But of all the multitudinous Hunchback movies, the two that people remember best today are the 1939 RKO version with Charles Laughton and Universal’s 1923 silent rendition featuring the legendary Lon Chaney Sr. in the title role. In my estimation, the ‘39 version is pretty sorry taken as a whole, with Laughton’s fine performance providing its only redeeming feature. The older Universal film, on the other hand, is far superior, though I don’t hold it in nearly such high esteem as is customary among movie critics.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the completely alien approach that it takes toward character development. Movies today are expected to introduce their characters gradually, using dialogue and interaction to reveal their personalities. In the silent era, this was all but impossible because of the limited amount of text that could be presented legibly on a single intertitle. With dialogue necessarily sketchy and restricted only to those ideas that simply could not be conveyed by actions or gestures, silent filmmakers often accompanied the introduction of a new character with a title card that briefly synopsized that character’s salient qualities. This technique was especially common in films that had large casts, and since The Hunchback of Notre Dame has more characters than it quite knows what to do with, those descriptive intertitles appear in it with extraordinary frequency. Source - 100 Misspenct Hours

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12. Nosferatu, A Symphony Of Horror (1922)
Director: F.W. Murnau

F.W. Murnau defined the horror genre by exploring the deep shadows of the soul in Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror. While the story is adapted from Bram Stoker’s Dracula- without permission, hence the name Count Orlok - the vampire is not a suave charmer, but an ugly, bald creature with pointy ears. Max Schreck’s performance is legendary, but Murnau’s lighting and atmosphere are what really elevate the film to the embodiment of terror. Surce - Pastemagazine

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11. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
Director: Rex Ingram

In the era of the silent film, directors were king; the recipients of top billing, they were often better known than the film's actors. A handful of men were at the forefront of the Hollywood game during those years, including D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille, and Erich von Stroheim. Add to that list Rex Ingram, who has been called the master of silent cinema, but is better known today as the director who introduced Rudolph Valentino to the world. In an ironic twist, the focal shift from director to star by film audiences began following the release of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), which ignited an unparalleled worship of Valentino. The film was helmed by Ingram, and starred the beautiful Alice Terry, but Valentino stole the show by demonstrating his skills with - summed up in two words - the tango. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is an epic tale of an Argentinean family who becomes divided and ends up fighting on opposite sides during WWI. Source - TCM (Turner Classic Movies)

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10. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Director: Rupert Julian

The Phantom of the Opera is a 1925 American silent horror film adaptation of Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, directed by Rupert Julian and starring Lon Chaney in the title role of the deformed Phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House, causing murder and mayhem in an attempt to make the woman he "loves" a star. The film remains most famous for Chaney's ghastly, self-devised make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere. The film was released on November 25, 1925.

Source - Wikipedia

Lon Chaney stars as Erik, the Phantom, in what is probably his most famous and certainly his most horrifying role. Produced by Universal, the film shot in 1923 and shelved for nearly two years, and was subjected to intensive studio tinkering. While many expected a disaster, the film turned out to be a rousing success. It was both the stepping off point for Chaney's run as a superstar at MGM and the prototype for the horror film cycle at Universal in the 1930s. The story concerns Erik, a much-feared fiend who haunts the Paris Opera House. Lurking around the damp, dank passages deep in the cellars of the theater, he secretly coaches understudy Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) to be an opera star. Through a startling sequence of terrors, including sending a giant chandelier crashing down on the opera patrons, the Phantom forces the lead soprano to withdraw from the opera, permitting Christine to step in. Source - Rotten Tomatoes

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09. The General  (1927)
Director: Clyde Bruckman

The General 1927

Arguably the greatest of Buster Keaton’s silent comedies, The General begins with a single, brilliantly sustained premise and works it into an engaging story that combines edge-of-your-seat excitement, stunningly conceived stunts and sight gags, spectacular set pieces, touching sentiment, and a rousing finale. Essentially a chase film, The General tells the Civil War-era tale of stoic young Confederate railroad engineer Johnnie Gray (Keaton), whose precious train is stolen — and beloved Annabelle (Marion Mack) kidnapped — by Union spies. Commandeering another train to give chase, Gray winds up sallying deep into enemy territory, riding by the seat of his pants as he confronts obstacles and difficulties at every turn, often with only moments to act and split-second timing needed to avoid disaster. Source - DecentFilms

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08. Napoleon (1927)
Director: Abel Gance

Napolean 1927

One of the crowning achievements of the silent era, writer-director Abel Gance’s Napoléon is a monumental but unfinished masterpiece, originally intended as a series of back-to-back productions covering the whole of Napoleon’s life. Unlike his subject, Gance was unable to proceed beyond the Italian campaign of 1796, Napoleon’s first major expansionist operation, at which point the shoot ran out of money. (Napoleon’s army also didn’t have any money, but he let his troops live off the land, an expedient Gance couldn’t reproduce.) Instead of a series of films, Gance wound up with a massive, incomplete epic, reportedly six and half hours in length originally, but slashed by American distributor MGM to less than an hour and a half for its 1929 US release. Due to this butchery - not to mention the burgeoning sound revolution - Napoléon was a stateside flop, and Gance was never able to raise the money to tell the rest of Napoleon’s story. Source - DecentFilms

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07. City Lights (1931)
Director: Charles Chaplin

City Lights 1931

If only one of Charles Chaplin's films could be preserved, “City Lights” (1931) would come the closest to representing all the different notes of his genius. It contains the slapstick, the pathos, the pantomime, the effortless physical coordination, the melodrama, the bawdiness, the grace, and, of course, the Little Tramp--the character said, at one time, to be the most famous image on earth. When he made it, three years into the era of sound, Chaplin must have known that “City Lights” might be his last silent film; he considered making a talkie, but decided against it, and although the film has a full musical score (composed by Chaplin) and sound effects, it has no speech. Audiences at the time would have appreciated his opening in-joke; the film begins with political speeches, but what emerges from the mouths of the speakers are unintelligible squawks--Chaplin's dig at dialogue. When he made “Modern Times” five years later, Chaplin allowed speech onto the soundtrack, but once again the Tramp remained silent except for some gibberish. Source - Roger Ebert

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06. The Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein

The Ba0ttleship Potemkin 1925

When the sailors of Russian battleship The Potemkin are given rotten meat by the ship's quartermaster, it's the final straw for the abused crew. Mutiny follows and before long St. Peterburg is in full-scale revolt. Denied a certificate by the British censors in 1926 and so frowned upon by the government that a distributor who tried to secure the film was "visited" by Scotland Yard, Battleship Potemkin has been seen almost exclusively in this country at film societies and workers' clubs. This is, essentially, the first time it has gone on general release here. Eisenstein's masterpiece is a film that many like to discuss knowledgeably, but surprisingly few have seen. Source - Empire

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05. Metropolis (1927)
Director: Fritz Lang

One of the biggest, strangest, maddest films in cinema history - Fritz Lang's 1927 film is a crazed futurist epic, a mythic sprawl with something of Jung and Wagner, and dystopian nightmare about a city-state built on slave labour, whose prosperity depends on suppressing a mutinous underground race whose insurrectionist rage is beginning to bubble. Metropolis predicts the ideologies of class and race of the 20th century, and there is a perennial frisson in the way the workers' leader Maria longs for a messianic figure who can find a middle way between the head and the heart, the bosses and the workers: he will be the Mediator, or the "Mittler" – a word that has a chilling echo with another real-life leader who at the time of Metropolis's premiere had a few seats in the Reichstag. The "Maschinenmensch" robot based on Maria is a brilliant eroticisation and fetishisation of modern technology and the current crisis in Dubai, whose economic boom was founded on a colossal import of globalised labour, makes Metropolis seem very contemporary. Source - The Guardian

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04. Intolerance (1916)
Director: D.W. Griffith

Intolerance 1916

Director D.W. Griffith's expensive, most ambitious silent film masterpieceIntolerance (1916) is one of the milestones and landmarks in cinematic history. Many reviewers and film historians consider it the greatest film of the silent era. The mammoth film was also subtitled: "A Sun-Play of the Ages" and "Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages." Griffith was inspired to make this film after watching the revolutionary Italian silent film epic Cabiria (1914) by director Giovanni Pastrone. Source - Filmsite

Sometime during the shooting of the landmark The Birth of a Nation, filmmaker D.W. Griffith probably wondered how he could top himself. In 1916, he showed how, with the awesome Intolerance. The film began humbly enough as a medium-budget feature entitled The Mother and the Law, wherein the lives of a poor but happily married couple are disrupted by the misguided interference of a "social reform" group. A series of unfortunate circumstances culminates in the husband's being sentenced to the gallows, a fate averted by a nick-of-time rescue engineered by his wife. In the wake of the protests attending the racist content of The Birth of a Nation, Griffith wanted to demonstrate the dangers of intolerance. The Mother and the Law filled the bill to some extent, but it just wasn't "big" enough to suit his purposes. Thus, using The Mother and the Law as merely the base of the film, Griffith added three more plotlines and expanded his cinematic thesis to epic proportions. Source - Rotten Tomatoes

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03. Modern Times (1936)
Director: Charles Chaplin

Silent films were already old-fashioned and out of vogue in 1936 when Charlie Chaplin completed his last silent feature film, Modern Times, almost ten years after the sound revolution began with The Jazz Singer. A silent film consciously made for the sound era, Modern Times is a comic masterpiece that remains approachable today even for movie lovers raised on computer imaging and surround sound. the most important reason for the film’s ongoing relevance is its contemporary themes and forward-looking perspective. The famous symbolic opening shot, with footage of wave after wave of sheep crowding through a sheepfold passageway suddenly dissolving into footage of workers bustling out of a subway station, has lost nothing of its impact. Indeed, contemporary viewers will easily make the connection between Chaplin’s image and the world of enclosures and passageways so familiar to corporate America’s cubicle dwellers — and to fans of Scott Adams’s Dilbert comic strip (who of course tend to be the same people). Source - DecentFilms

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02. Wings (1927)
Director: William A. Wellman

A mixture of melodrama, sentimental romance and heavy-handed comedy, Wings was superbly choreographed with skilfully photographed stunt flying and aerial combat. It tells the tale of two small-town boys (Richard Arlen, Charles Rogers) undergoing flight training in the US and becoming heroic flying aces in France. The movie's cast is led by Clara Bow, the It girl and Paramount's biggest star. She plays a lively tomboy, first seen provocatively pushing aside a pair of knickers on a washing line to emerge in close-up and later appearing briefly naked in Paris after following the boys to France as an ambulance driver. But the centre of the tale is the homoerotic relationship between Arlen and Rogers, and although everything in the film is of historical and cultural interest, the flying and the flyers are what makes it endure. Source - The Guardian

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01. The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Director: D.W. Griffith

The most successful and artistically advanced film of its time, The Birth of a Nation has also sparked protests, riots, and divisiveness since its first release. The film tells the story of the Civil War and its aftermath, as seen through the eyes of two families. The Stonemans hail from the North, the Camerons from the South. When war breaks out, the Stonemans cast their lot with the Union, while the Camerons are loyal to Dixie. After the war, Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall), distressed that his beloved south is now under the rule of blacks and carpetbaggers, organizes several like-minded Southerners into a secret vigilante group called the Ku Klux Klan. When Cameron's beloved younger sister Flora (Mae Marsh) leaps to her death rather than surrender to the lustful advances of renegade slave Gus (Walter Long), the Klan wages war on the new Northern-inspired government and ultimately restores "order" to the South. In the original prints, Griffith suggested that the black population be shipped to Liberia, citing Abraham Lincoln as the inspiration for this ethnic cleansing. Showings of Birth of a Nation were picketed and boycotted from the start, and as recently as 1995, Turner Classic Movies cancelled a showing of a restored print in the wake of the racial tensions around the O.J. Simpson trial verdict. Source - Hal Erickson, Rovi

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